FTC Town Hall to Address Digital Rights Management Technologies - Event Takes Place Wednesday, March 25, 2009, in Seattle
The exclusive right that creators maintain over their creations once they have shared them with the public is not a natural one. We grant copyright, and other similar protections, with the intent of promoting progress by encouraging and enabling the sharing of ideas. When sharing of ideas required the creation of a tangible object, there was considerable risk associated with bringing unproven ideas to market. In a world without copyright, there could be printers that wait to see what authors sell well and print copies of these proven works. The publishers that take risks to bring unproven authors to print are unable to cover the costs of those risks. These risks, though, are not incurred in the creation of the work, but in the reproduction of the work-- the costs of printing a thousand copies of a manuscript by an unknown author. If it's popular, copyright enables the risk-taking publisher to license the book to other publishers so public demand can be satisfied and the publisher compensated for taking risks on unknown authors. With digital content, creation and reproduction are not close-coupled. Certainly there are digital products available on tangible media (CDs, DVDs, etc) but it is not necessary to expend sunk costs to publish digital content in this manner. Global publishing of digital content is (or can be) effectively free. Since the existing reasoning for why We grant copyrights to creators is the cost/risk of reproduction of an unproven works, and there is little or no cost/risk to reproduce digital works... should digital works be granted copyright protection? Given the prevalence of casual copyright infringement of digital works, it seems We mostly answer that question "No." We grant copyrights, but We also demonstrate a willingness to unilaterally revoke that temporary monopoly We have granted in the case of digital works. Enter "digital rights management". "Digital rights", much like copyrights, must stem from the provision to grant, temporarily, exclusive rights to creators over their works for the purpose of promoting progress. Existing examples of DRM schemes often do not meet the necessary condition to be temporary. It would be natural to revoke the rights We have granted should a creator violate copyright in this manner. Similar reasoning may be applied to the case where progress is being impeded by the assertion of these granted rights. We may only grant these rights to promote progress. If progress is being impeded, the grant is without authority and rendered illegitimate-- We may revoke the granted right.